Kaleb Dahlgren’s driveway stickhandling might appear commonplace in suburban Saskatoon – but it’s remarkable considering he survived the Humboldt Broncos bus tragedy.
The veteran SJHL forward’s only recollection of the crash near Tisdale, Sask., comes from what he was told by a first responder after the fact.
“I was walking around trying to help people and ask how they were doing,” Dahlgren said the first responder told him.
In the April 6 collision, the 20-year-old suffered a puncture wound in his head, a fractured skull, a brain injury and six broken vertebrae: four in his back, two in his neck.
Another three vertebrae are cracked.
The broken bones are expected to take six to eight weeks to heal. A full recovery from the brain injury will take a year to two years, he said.
“They said it’s rare to have a full recovery, but with how I am now, there’s a good possibility I could have a full recovery,” Dahlgren said.
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Despite his injuries, Dahlgren is mulling over multiple post-secondary offers and he still wants to play hockey at a Canadian university.
“If I’m able to play, then I’d love to play. If I’m not able to play, well then that’s the way it is and I guess that’s what I have to deal with.”
Dahlgren confirmed on Friday morning he has committed to York University and its USport Lions hockey program.
“My goal is to attend York in the fall of this year, however the school has assured me I can begin whenever my body is ready,” Dahlgren said in a tweet.
“Reaching this goal has always driven me on and off the ice, however it has taken on a new importance since April 6, 2018: to play hard and live life for my fellow teammates, for my coaches, including Mark Cross, who played hockey for York for 5 years… for everyone who lost their life that day, and for all those whose lives have been forever changed by the Broncos tragedy.”
His days are now filled with appointments for physiotherapy, home workouts and taking time to respond to well-wishers.
On the night of the crash, he was talking to teammate Nick Shumlanski, asking where his house was along Highway 35 as the team approached Nipawin for its playoff match with the Hawks of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League (SJHL).
“Parker Tobin, a couple seats in front of him was like ‘nobody cares’ and everybody bursted out laughing,” Dahlgren recalled.
He put on his headphones to “get in the zone” and he doesn’t recall anything else.
Kaleb’s father Mark Dahlgren remembers getting to Nipawin early that Friday afternoon and having dinner with his wife.
They watched fleet after fleet of ambulances, fire trucks and RCMP cars fly down the highway. One restaurant customer said there was a crash between a semi-truck and a bus.
“I honestly don’t know if we paid our bill. We just hopped in the car,” Mark said.
Both nurses, the parents tried to offer their assistance at the crash site, but ultimately went back to Nipawin and wait for news at the local apostolic church.
“It was the worst day of my life and the best day of my life all in four hours because we thought he was dead and then we found out he was alive,” Mark said.
As a boy, Kaleb personified respect, empathy and compassion, according to his dad. Diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes as a child, Kaleb never complained.
“He’s been a positive kid from the moment he started talking,” he said.
Kaleb requested a trade before the start of the 2017-18 SJHL season because he wanted to grow his program called ‘Dahlgren’s Diabeauties.’
He brought kids with the condition to Broncos games to get a picture on the ice, take a ceremonial face-off, meet him and receive Broncos memorabilia.
Since the crash, he’s had a chance to speak with some of the Diabeauties.
“It’s really nice just to talk to them and let them know I’m OK because they were really worried about me.”